The Trail Coordination and Management Committee met with Select Board members Wednesday night to discuss its charter and goals for the Upper Charles Trail in an effort to improve communication about a situation that has generated some controversy over the past several months.
This is the second joint meeting between the two bodies. The first one occurred last Wednesday.
In an overwhelming but nonbinding vote at May’s Annual Town Meeting, members voted that the Upper Charles Trail Committee be disbanded and reconstituted as a TCMC subcommittee after some perceived that the UCTC was being unresponsive to community concerns. This prompted the Select Board to halt UCTC meetings and release a public survey earlier this week to gather information about what the community wants to see in the UCTC and ultimately in the proposed trail that will connect the town to Milford and Ashland.
Moran speaks of UCTC action on Segment 1, questions TCMC about its progress
UCTC chair Jane Moran spoke as a private citizen during the public comment period about the committee’s recent work on Segment 1 to engage residents. The segment is proposed to go from Hopkinton State Park to East Main Street. Town Meeting approved the use of Community Preservation Committee funding for pre-engineering studies, she explained. Notices were hand-delivered to Legacy Farms North.
Said Moran: “The folks I spoke to while delivering these notices were thrilled and very supportive.”
She then questioned the TCMC and the Hopkinton Trails Club about what work they had completed since Town Meeting on the western alternative to the UCTC’s proposed trail route. At its meeting last week, Moran pointed out that the TCMC spoke about potentially acquiring the Gorman property for the western alternative. She explained state laws that need to be followed, including offering the town the right of first refusal to purchase the property. She questioned why the TCMC is seeking the help of a realtor to write a letter to the Gorman family about potentially selling the property for trail development.
Moran brought up the contentious proposed segments at the Milford end of the trail that would cross busy Hayden Rowe Street. She explained that “the UCTC moved away from that approach” after citizens voiced concerns and because the TCMC proposed the western alternative in its place.
“We made it clear at our meetings over and over again that we had dropped Hayden Rowe and moved on to Segment 1,” she stressed.
The UCTC wants to make Section 1 viable “for people of all abilities and all accessibilities,” she added. The use of stone dust would make that challenging, she said, indicating that stone dist was the preference of the TCMC and Trails Club. If the trail is not built to these accessibility specifications, state and federal funding could not be applied.
TCMC chair Peter LaGoy countered that the TCMC does not have access to the monies granted by the CPC for the western alternative until the fiscal year begins on July 1. Since the Annual Town Meeting, the TCMC has engaged in conversations with relevant property owners.
He added that a realtor has more experience in reaching out to landowners than committee members, which is why the realtor was consulted. There already is a proposed alternative to the western alternative that goes through town-owned land should the public not support it.
Upper Charles Trail Building Committee discussed
LaGoy proposed having an Upper Charles Trail Building Committee instead of the UCTC.
“The issue of having multiple trails committees in town has been problematic for folks,” he said. “Having one trails committee and then a building committee would be one way to address this issue.”
He added that it should have seven members, all appointed as at-large members. Interest in trails should be “a primary driver,” as well as experience on different types of trails.
Chuss pointed out that the Upper Charles Trail Building Committee would be project based, making it temporary.
Moran questioned if this idea would be reviewed by both the TCMC and the UCTC before being finalized by the Select Board.
Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch said that the survey results and this information would be reviewed. A community forum potentially could be convened, although it may be difficult in the summer.
TCMC member Linda Chuss also said that a joint meeting among the three entities would be fruitful, and Moran agreed, with the caveat that Town Manager Norman Khumalo facilitate it.
Said Moran: “I think we’re at a critical point. And I think we should do it once and do it right.”
TCMC charge reviewed
The TCMC’s charge was discussed by TCMC and Select Board members. Ritterbusch and Select Board chair Muriel Kramer attended the 90-minute meeting in person, while members Irfan Nasrullah and vice chair Shahidul Mannan participated virtually.
LaGoy explained that at last week’s meeting, TCMC member Janine LeBlanc put together a one-page summary of the charge to condense the three-page document originally written by the Select Board in 2019. LaGoy also drafted a paper that synthesized the two.
“The key purpose still comes down to promoting the development and sustainability of town trails, encourages public use of the trails, and then coordinating with other boards and committees,” he said.
The original charge had four at-large members, with three members appointed by the Select Board as liaisons between the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission and the Parks & Recreation Commission, respectively. LaGoy’s concern was that “people get stretched too thin” when serving on multiple committees and boards. He also said that liaisons should be nonvoting members.
Said LaGoy: “We feel it’s probably better to have folks who are really focused on trails and have that as their primary responsibility.”
Kramer noted that those serving in liaison roles don’t necessarily have to attend each TCMC meeting to be effective. LaGoy stressed that the liaisons should have a working knowledge of trail activity if they are going to be questioned by the public.
Kramer said there should be communication between committees and liaisons so when issues arise, liaisons are encouraged to attend meetings.
LaGoy also pointed out that when the TCMC was formed, there was a paragraph saying that there shouldn’t be interaction between the TCMC and the UCTC. In hindsight, he said “that probably wasn’t a good idea.”
“The key is for milestones with regard to the Upper Charles Trail,” he said, noting that the Select Board, TCMC and UCTC could meet jointly and then approve milestones by a two-thirds vote. The ultimate recommendations would need to be approved by the Select Board.
Funding was another issue LaGoy mentioned. Both committees had vied simultaneously for state grants in the past, but only one town entity could receive funding during that period.
TCMC member Fran DeYoung said there should be an overall strategic trail plan to present to the Select Board on an annual basis, as well as “a unified north star.” TCMC and Select Board members agreed.
Kramer added that “there should be some shared nomenclature” about trail design and surfacing for stakeholders to reference. Additional liaisons should be considered, such as from the Council on Aging and the Youth Commission, as well as the Commission on Disabilities to make sure that “a broad spectrum” of needs and uses for trails are taken into account.
“Having it down on paper makes sense,” LaGoy said of the vocabulary and annual goals. Term limits for committee members also were suggested.
Chuss noted that the TCMC already works with other trails groups, including the Trails Club, Hopkinton Area Land Trust and Sudbury Valley Trustees.
Chuss also questioned how the Select Board appoints committee members, asking how qualifications are reviewed and enforced. Ritterbusch and Kramer noted that resumes are reviewed, as well as recommendations from boards that are required in the qualifications part of the charge.
LaGoy said that he wanted to encourage “new blood” on committees versus people who have more “paper experience.”
A potential TCMC goal was raised about the use of trails by horses and dogs. LaGoy suggested that there could be signage about times when some uses can be prohibited. Ritterbusch said that dogs should not be allowed off leash. Town bylaws do not allow dogs off leash between 7 a.m.-8 p.m.. This would not be part of the charge. [Editor’s note: This last paragraph was updated to provide clarification.]